Privateering and captivity in the Mediterranean
Before the age of mass migration, privateering, a central and legitimate component of international relations between the 16th and the early 19th centuries, was a major cause of the forced migration of thousands. From the Mediterranean to the USA, and even in northern European waters, governments granted private shipowners and entrepreneurs the right to attack and loot enemy ships, take a share of the profits from booty and take prisoners for ransom or sale. All the major conventions signed between European powers and rulers in the Near East and North Africa mention privateering as a political, military and economic reality and regulate its geographical scope. Ransoms, tributes and the tragedy of slavery became commonplace as a result of privateering, which was mainly undertaken from Malta and Livorno on the European side and Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli in North Africa. In 1815, following the Congress of Vienna, peace in Europe, the advent of steamships and the official abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century put an end to privateering.
Chorographical plan of the attack waged by Lord Exmouth against Algiers on 27 August 1816
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State Archives of Turin, Turin, Italy
Control of the Mediterranean was a main source of conflict between the European powers and the North African provinces known as the “Barbary” Regencies, with headquarters in Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli. The term Barbary appeared in the 16th century to refer to North African (Berber) pirates, originating among the officers of the Sultan of Istanbul sent to conquer the western Mediterranean.